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Power to the People: Musings of an Election Observer

Elections in Nigeria have always been met with a peculiar sense of wariness and apathy by the Nigerian populace. And this weariness and apathy are not totally unjustified, what with the history of violence and rigging that has plagued our electoral process for so long. The just-concluded Ondo gubernatorial election was the first electoral process I was privileged to witness, albeit not as a voter but as a domestic election observer for YIAGA Africa and PTCIJ. 

Going into the elections, I was both excited and nervous – excited because I was about witnessing people wielding their democratic power and nervous because this was my first time and I did not really know what to expect. However, all the nervousness evaporated immediately I visited the first polling unit in my beat – PU 003, Methodist Primary School Ode Aye Ward 1 in Okitipupa local government. The police officers saw me fully dressed in my observer jacket and cap and welcomed me warmly. That warm reception erased all my earlier nervousness as I realized even the security officials and the poll workers recognize and acknowledge the role observers have to play in ensuring a free and fair election. But as far as free and fair is the golden standard, I think this election falls way short of this standard.

I arrived at PU 016, Okitipupa ward II, which was at the new motor park, at about 10:30 am. At first glance everything was peaceful and the voting process was going on without a hitch. But then a few meters away from the voting queue, I saw a group of people huddled together. I moved nearer and I saw there was a man in the middle writing down names. As I joined the group to find out what was going on, one of the men in the group, obviously triggered by my observer kit, bore down on me menacingly. “Kilode, ki lo n was?”  The man’s attitude told me something shady was going on but then common sense dictates you don’t argue with a car park goon whose breath reeks of igbo and paraga in equal measure. I obliged him and moved away from the group. 

Deciding to stay and observe what exactly the ‘name-writing’ was all about, I went to stand under the garage shed where a couple of vendors were selling food. I greeted one of the vendors and she replied warmly. I then asked her if she knew why those people over there were writing down their names. She smiled before replying, “Them dey write down their names to collect their money.” “Their money?” “Yes na, they don tell them say na 5k if they vote their party and they don vote, so na to collect money remain. Me wey go vote for Abusoro sef, I collect my five thousand.”

Our electoral process has come a long way and based on where we are coming from one could say INEC has done a great job in making our elections more credible. Rigging, ballot box snatching and other samples of electoral malpractice have been greatly reduced. And if the just-concluded Edo and Ondo elections are anything to go by, one could infer that power now lies in the hands of the people. It is how the people use this power, or more accurately what they trade this power for that is now the cause of concern. 

Politicians, coming to the realization that they have no other means of fraudulently manipulating election results, knew they had to get people to vote for them. Now in an ideal society, you get people to vote for you by winning their hearts through your campaign propaganda and projected plans for the future; and in the case of the incumbent, you point to your past achievements. But it seems these politicians probably having little confidence in their own track record or maybe they realized the people would not fall for their empty promises decides the only way to get people’s vote is to buy it. And from my experience in Okitipupa, these votes come as cheap as Five Thousand Naira. I mean, in an area that has not had access to electricity for like eight years now, one would assume it should take much more than 5k to buy their votes. But then in a community that has long given up on the government, Five Thousand would seem like a great deal to them. 

Elections are vital to any sustainable democracy and as such we should always strive to make the process as free and fair and credible as possible. Vote-buying is a threat to the credibility of this process and it is one threat that seems would be around for a long time. But there is one positive edge to this, and it is that power now lies in the hands of the people, they just need to awaken to that reality.   

This opinion story has been published on CAMPUS REPORTER with very minimal editing to preserve the original voice of the author. 

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